You are what you eat. Well, this was probably more true to the people of Peter and Paul’s day than it is for us. I don’t know about you, but when I read about a sheet full of food animals floating down from heaven, I’m thanking God for delivery.
That wasn’t the case for the first followers of Jesus. You see they were Jewish, Jesus was a Jew, Peter was a Jew, Paul was a Jew. And one of the things about Jews is that they didn’t eat certain things. Now it wasn’t just a custom, like most of us tend not eat horse in this country. No, what Jews did and didn’t eat was decided by God. It ‘s part of the commandments, the laws of their faith, that Jews do not eat anything from pigs, no pork and no bacon. And that’s just one of a great very many animals that the people of God we forbidden by God to eat.
But it’s more than just a restricted diet. It defined who they were, with whom they ate, and with whom they didn’t. So, it wasn’t like they just skipped that particular part of the first century Middle East buffet table. The point was to actually make the Jewish people, God’s chosen people different, the laws were meant to make them distinct and stick out from their neighbors. They were to be ritually, clean, holy. While everybody else wasn’t. This was God’s commands. What they ate and what they didn’t defined their faith, defined who they were, kept them, the chosen people of God, separate and holy. So you were holy or not depending on how you followed God’s laws, and a big part of that was what you didn’t eat.You literally were what you ate.
And the Jews were not be like everyone else. Everyone else was doing it, was not a value, carried no importance for God’s Chosen People.
Everybody’s doing it, didn’t work with my parents either. But we tried it. When we wanted to do something, like were blue jeans to school or go to the dance on Friday night, we’d remind our parents that well, “everybody else is doing it”. My parents had their own phrase, they had their own comeback, do you know what it is? “We’ll, we’re not like everyone else”.
As I was growing up, that message was crystal clear. It was shared with us in the Winzer household in so many different ways, even if my parents didn’t use those exact words. The message was clear: we’re German, we’re bette than that, we’re better than them, Germans are superior. Driving into the cities of Allentown or Philadelphia, going through the neighborhoods, my parents didn’t keep their judgmental, prejudiced, and bigoted comments to themselves. They freely degraded the African Americans and the Latino family’s we saw. Of course, my parents didn’t actually call them African Americans, Latino’s or even Puerto Rican’s. It wasn’t till I went to college that I learned that Puerto Rico is not a foreign country, but a territory of the United States.
In so many ways, big and little, conscious and unconscious, I was told that I and my family, that people like me were better, we’re superior, more intelligent and that meant there was something wrong with people who were poor, or who looked different, who spoke differently, ate differently than me.
One day, years later when my parents were visiting my husband Brad and I early in our marriage living in Chicago we went shopping at a local grocery. This was something we did with a bit of fear and trembling because my father in particular didn’t keep his thoughts to himself but spoke his mind out loud. So we’re walking down the aisles, and he’s making comments about all the “ethnic” food until he sees his favorites, tripe, souce , head cheese, whatever right there next to the pigs feet and the chitlins. It was as if a sheet from heaven came down, and on it were not just these foreign things but his favorites as well. Here he was and he was as ethnic as those of whom he was just laughing at. He wasn’t the norm, he wasn’t special. He was the same as everybody else.
When it comes down to it, that’s one if the things we read in these verses. God wants all God’s children at the heavenly picnic blanket, around the table. The Holy Spirit was going even out to the Gentiles, among the unclean. And what’s really radical is that all these other people didn’t need to change, didn’t need to become like the Jewish Christians, didn’t need to eat, didn’t need to change who they were, they didn’t need to hinder the Spirit.
We too can ask ourselves as individuals as a church, who are we to hinder God’s Holy Spirit. Because God’s Holy Spirit is moving, in this place, and among us, God is calling for us all to make room around all our tables, whether it’s at this table of Holy Communion (our worship table), whether it’s downstairs at the Lao New Year Party, our fellowship tables, around our bible study, our council, and committee tables we are to be asking, checking ourselves, are we hindering God? Because this church isn’t here because of you, it isn’t here because of me or some church program. The Holy Spirit is here. The Holy Spirit is in our neighborhood, in our lives. The Holy Spirit is calling us to be the church right here. So, if as a church we ask only one question,it needs to be, who are we to be hindering God?
Now, I’d like to be able to tell you that my dad’s heart softened, that his eyes were opened. But in this life, I didn’t see that. However our faith tells us, and I believe that God can do great things. I believe that even my father’s prejudice and bigotry could not ultimately hinder the Holy Spirit. My belief, my hope is that in the new life pictured for us by John, from the reading from the book of Revelation that my father is gathered together and is standing before the throne of God, around the table of the feast of the Lamb that has no end, and he is rejoicing that next to him are all God’s children. That my father Donald Paul is with those he loved well, in this life, and most I importantly with those he did not, all joined together in the forgiveness, the love, the grace of God in Christ. Amen.